How Berkshire Running Center Became Leader Of The Pack
By Lisa Green
Runners, like any other athletes, are used to pushing themselves. In 2011, when master runners Kent and Shiobbean Lemme opened the Berkshire Running Center in Pittsfield, Mass., their goal was to become the Grand Central Station for runners in the Berkshires. Just five years later — in record time, it seems to me — they didn’t just make it to the finish line: they blew right past it. Their “tribe” of runners has grown, and they’re growing with it.
What began as a retail operation in a corner of Berkshire Nautilus became a training and coaching center, and producer of most of the 25 road races in the Berkshires each year. The BRC also serves as official timer for many others. With a nearly daily schedule of trainings and classes, and new running products joining the store’s inventory, it had outgrown its cramped first space.
In November, the center moved to larger quarters on Depot Street, off of Pittsfield’s main drag. In this new inviting space, with multiple windows, brick walls and hardwood floors (designed by Great Barrington interior designer William Caligari), there’s room for a fitness studio for cardio strength classes, 16 brand-new Keiser indoor cycles, changing rooms and cubbies. Kent and Shiobbean teach the RunFit Cardio Strength and the indoor cycling classes. (And if you don’t think they get a crowd for the 5:30 a.m. class, you don’t know serious runners.)
Ramblefest training run.
“There were little groups of runners spread all over the Berkshires,” Kent says, “but we needed a an outlet where we could run together and play together.” And they were just the couple to make that happen.
“We knew that Kent’s elite status brought validity to a running store,” says Shiobbean, a Pittsfield native. “Anyone would ask him which shoes to buy. I already had my personal training business.”
Shiobbean has completed 16 marathons and qualified three times for the Boston Marathon. She’s also been the outdoor sports guide at Canyon Ranch for more than 20 years. Kent, who was the superintendent at Taconic Golf Course for almost two decades, has won races ranging from one mile to marathons, and just last fall bested the Ironman category in the Josh Billings RunAground Triathlon (he turned in the sixth fastest time overall in the field of 417 teams and individuals). In his late forties, he’s still setting personal records.
So they built the center, and runners did come. The Lemmes sought a way to expand their Grand Central Station vision. “We said, ‘what works?’” Kent explains. “Trainings work. Races work. And it’s better to have people race here, locally, so people don’t have to travel or spend their money somewhere else.”
They’re particularly proud of the Steel Rail Half Marathon (“our baby,” Shiobbean calls it), an annual race held in May that starts at the Berkshire Mall and follows the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail into Adams. It sold out in the first year, and the two started a training program based around it. Now there are specific trainings for many other races, plus group and personal training classes, and the Lemme Run Program, a six-week “how to run” session for beginners of any age.
“We feel strongly about giving back to the community,” says Shiobbean. Over the years, BRC has donated more than $33,000 to the Department of Conservation and Recreation from sponsor donations that will go to the maintenance and repair of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail.
The couple have taken their expertise outside of the store, too. Kent coaches track and field at Taconic High School. Realizing that there was no middle school running program in Pittsfield, the Lemmes started one at Herberg Middle School. They hold free clinics for the Josh Billings and organize Saturday group runs that anyone can join, at no charge. Recently, they’ve begun partnering with local restaurants; on Wednesday evenings, runners meet at Hotel on North, go for a sprint and gather together at the bar for drinks and camaraderie. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Runners gather for the Jingle Bell Run.
In the beginning, Shiobbean says, they had to figure out how many pairs of shoes they needed to sell each day to keep the business going. They’ve obviously figured that out, but what they’ve really done is create a community. The secret sauce is the couple’s warmth, generosity of spirit and, of course, knowledge. The Lemmes seem to know everyone in the tribe by name (and each person’s backstory, too). Have any questions about the mechanics of running? Kent’s your man. Shiobbean, an Amy Schumer lookalike (and just as funny, minus the blue talk) greets everyone with a hug, and mixes standup comedy with motivation for both mind and body.
And while runners take their sport seriously, the Lemmes aren’t above being a little goofy. Witness the Jingle Bell Run — this year they ran through a snowstorm dressed as Santas and elves — or the Dash and Splash on The Common, where runners sprint through sprinklers. They know that motivation in the form of awards ceremonies, or beer and pizza, after a race series is just as important as mentoring and encouragement. “We want everyone to be successful,” Kent says.
Now that they’ve made it to five years, there’s a new five-year plan in the works. They’d like, in time, to expand the space and become a larger fitness venue. But whatever they offer, it’ll be done so under Kent’s rubric: Stay healthy, stay injury free, stay motivated.
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